Every love story is unique. Sometimes people know they have fallen in love with a single glance. For others it’s a long, slow smoulder before love finally finds its flame. For Trudi and David Stretton, all it took was a few crystals from the magic salt container.
“We were quite young when we first met, I was only 17 and David was the brother of a girl I met when I started nursing and she thought we would be a great couple,” recalls Trudi, who grew up in Sydney’s beachside Manly. “I was actually going out with somebody else, and David had a girlfriend, too. But David’s sister kept inviting us over for dinner.
“And one night when we sat down for a meal, I picked up the salt shaker and leaned over and salted his potatoes. It was incredible because at that moment, both of us knew that we were destined to be together. We call it the magic salt container because it spread around a touch salt and love. David has told me that he decided that he would marry me the very first time he ever met me, which surprises me, but it is very romantic. I supposed that means that he fell in love with me on first sight, which also means that such a thing really exists. We both found that the relationships that we were both in at the time were nothing like the relationships that we had with each other and that it was growing stronger all the time.”
At its most potent, love is an irresistible force. A few days later Trudi asked her boyfriend around to her home – she was living with her parents – to tell her boyfriend that it was all over.
“My mother adored David, but wasn’t all that keen on the other guy,” recalls Trudi. “After I ended the relationship, I called David to let him know. He drove straight around to my place and asked my mum if he could take me for a drive.
“Later that night he asked me to marry him. He said that he wasn’t waiting any longer in case the other guy came back. And that night he proposed to me. I was so excited that I don’t think that I said yes. I just grabbed him around the neck, and I knew that what we had together was a completely different feeling and something that would last a life time.”
Forty-seven years later Trudi, 63, and David, 67, are still just as devoted to each other, perhaps even more so. Their relationship is close and tender and even more meaningful because circumstance dictates that they live apart.
David has been a resident at NewDirection Care in Bellmere, Queensland, for the past couple of years after the onset of a form of dementia. Trudi lives in an apartment just a few streets away, and at present they can’t live together, as much as they would like it.
To express their feeling for each other at a time when neither truly knows when they will live together again, David and Trudi reaffirmed their vows in a special ceremony at NewDirection Care, Bellmere a just a few months ago.
The celebrant who conducted the service, recalls Trudi, told them that she had never married a couple who were so like they were at 19 and 25. “We are the same people at 63 and 67 that we were at 19 and 25,” says Trudi. “We never had any inclination to part. The only time we ever came close to anything like that was when I was 21 and we were trying to start a family. The doctor told us that while we were a great couple, we were a bad couple at conceiving, which shocked us to the core.
“We went home and had a few tears and finally David said, ‘I’ll go.’ I wasn’t going to let that happen. I wasn’t going to let him go. I knew he didn’t really want to go but he also knew I really wanted to have children.
“So, we did everything that we could to have children. Our minister was worried about us because the concern started to show up in our life – we were in tears more times than we were not. Finally, he got us into a group that helped people do overseas adoptions safely and legally. So, we put our name down and finally adopted a little girl from Sri Lanka.”
But Trudi and David also later managed to have a little girl of their own, too. So they finally achieved their dream of having children together and now they also have several grandchildren.
Even so, the lives are not fairy tales. Families don’t always see eye to eye. Their family is widely spread across Australia. For a variety of reasons, Trudi and David only see some of their grandchildren which has meant considerable stress and heartache.
“I am a very emotional person,” says Trudi. “I will cry and scream and shout even at my age. But David holds all the pain inside. The doctors have told us that the onset of his condition – he would have got it anyway – has come earlier than it should have and is progressing faster than it should because of all the stress.
“But even through all the stress, David and I have always been together 100 per cent and never once did one of us want to run away. Well, sometimes we both wanted to run away but we wanted to run away together.
“I have been extremely fortunate. I couldn’t have a man who could love me or care about me more. He’s an old-fashioned gentleman. He opens doors for me. He walks on the outside when we walk down the street. He’s always been there for me, and I’ve always been there for him and that’s just the way it is. We’re just joined at the hip, aren’t we honey? With a kilometre apart.”
Trudi has severe osteoporosis, which means that she can no longer dress or care for herself properly. “I have to have carers in the morning – I can’t dress myself anymore properly without anyone helping me, and I can’t shower by myself,” she says.
“And I don’t cook anymore because I tried twice and nearly burned the house down. So, we’ve decided to give up – we’ll let the carers do the cooking. And they come for a little while in the mornings and then they come in the afternoons to make sure I’ve got my medications both times. But they can help me get in my PJs and that I’m safe. And usually, they’re leaving as NewDirection Care’s phone call comes through and David’s on the phone to say goodnight. We don’t hang up from each other until David has said that he loves me. That’s so wonderful to hear.”
During the 18 months or so that David has been at NewDirection Care, the staff have done everything they can to help the couple keep as connected as possible despite their separate living arrangements.
“My son-in-law found the unit where I live for me,” says Trudi. “If I walk to the end of the street, I can actually see the rooves of NewDirection Care. Which sometimes is good – sometimes, it’s a teary time for me.
“I’m rather good at crying lately. But I know David’s there and if anything happened or the staff there were worried, I know that they would ring me and let me know. I know he is looked after and that I could be there with him in just a few minutes if he needs me.
There is a chance that Trudi will be reunited with David perhaps in the next couple of years once it’s possible for her to do so.
“I know that at NewDirection Care he’s not going to be left on his own at any stage. I have never met another male that is as considerate and loving and caring. The only place I want to go is here, to be with him. If they try to send me to another home, I won’t go. If I do then I might never see him again. I couldn’t do that.”
“The staff here will tell you that when I come to the door, he begins to smile and his whole-body language changes. His smile lights up his face and you’d think we were getting married again every day. When I saw him at our renewals it was like it was the first time again. There’s only one way we are going to lose each other, and we are getting older, as everyone keeps telling us. But I’m not letting him go for anybody. Nothing in this world can take him away from me.”